Tom Friedman: If We Don't Sign The TPP Agreement, The World Will Be Overtaken By ISIS, Anarchy And China

from the who-said-what-now? dept

Famed NY Times columnist Tom Friedman is pretty widely mocked for his ridiculous platitudes that are designed to sound smart (or, more directly, to make readers think that Tom Friedman is smarter than you). But, outside of corporate boardrooms and elite politicians, it seems plenty of people recognize that Friedman's musings don't make much sense. There's even a Thomas Friedman OpEd Generator that does a pretty good job, showing how formulaic his articles are.

The key element in a Tom Friedman piece is to take some basic, simplified conventional wisdom, and try to gussy it up so that it sounds really profound. Often, this means ignoring all of the nuances and complexity behind the simple idea. A decade ago, he turned this into a whole book, The World is Flat, about globalization and how it was changing the world. He wasn't wrong, but his insights weren't particularly insightful or useful. Furthermore, he's so wedded to his thesis, that he still fails to realize that he was focused on a very exaggerated view of things, without understanding all of the related forces and consequences of what he was selling.

Given the premise of that book (and he's apparently working on a followup), it's little surprise that he's now stepped up to defend the TPP in his NY Times column space. Of course, he's going to do that, because he has a kneejerk reaction to defend "free trade deals" based on his book -- and he doesn't even seem to recognize that the TPP isn't really about free trade, other than at the margins. At least his colleague, Paul Krugman, seemed to immediately recognize that the TPP couldn't possibly help much on trade (because most trade barriers are already gone), and after talking to lots of folks realized that the TPP was likely dangerous.

Friedman, on the other hand, insists it's necessary, because without it... ISIS wins. Or something like that. Honestly, it's hard to parse out what he's actually saying because the broad meaningless platitudes just take over:
Because these deals are not just about who sets the rules. They’re about whether we’ll have a rule-based world at all. We’re at a very plastic moment in global affairs — much like after World War II. China is trying to unilaterally rewrite the rules. Russia is trying to unilaterally break the rules and parts of both the Arab world and Africa have lost all their rules and are disintegrating into states of nature. The globe is increasingly dividing between the World of Order and the World of Disorder.

When you look at it from Europe — I’ve been in Germany and Britain the past week — you see a situation developing to the south of here that is terrifying. It is not only a refugee crisis. It’s a civilizational meltdown: Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq — the core of the Arab world — have all collapsed into tribal and sectarian civil wars, amplified by water crises and other environmental stresses.
From there, he wanders through random musings about the collapse of civilization in the Middle East that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with a trade agreement concerning countries in the Pacific Rim. Then he magically brings it back around to the TPP by arguing "something something New World Order World of Order."
What does all this have to do with trade deals? With rising disorder in the Middle East and Africa — and with China and Russia trying to tug the world their way — there has never been a more important time for the coalition of free-market democracies and democratizing states that are the core of the World of Order to come together and establish the best rules for global integration for the 21st century, including appropriate trade, labor and environmental standards. These agreements would both strengthen and more closely integrate the market-based, rule-of-law-based democratic and democratizing nations that form the backbone of the World of Order.
What's amusing is that just paragraphs above, Friedman talks about the importance of "bottom-up communities" -- and yet here he seems to be saying that the big countries have to do the exact opposite and create top down order. And what kind of "order" is this? As far as I now, Tom Friedman doesn't have access to the text of the TPP because President Obama refuses to make it public.

So, as far as I can summarize, Friedman's argument is that "The Middle East is turning to anarchy, so the rest of the world needs to create strict authoritarian rules." Why? Because if we don't, China will. Because....
As Obama told his liberal critics Friday: If we abandon this effort to expand trade on our terms, “China, the 800-pound gorilla in Asia will create its own set of rules,” signing bilateral trade agreements one by one across Asia “that advantage Chinese companies and Chinese workers and ... reduce our access ... in the fastest-growing, most dynamic economic part of the world.” But if we get the Pacific trade deal done, “China is going to have to adapt to this set of trade rules that we’ve established.” If we fail to do that, he added, 20 years from now we’ll “look back and regret it.”
So, wait, now it won't be ISIS and anarchy we need to be afraid of, but China and its own rules? This entire piece makes no sense at all.

Meanwhile, actual experts in trade, like Simon Lester at Cato (who obviously is also a big supporter of free trade, but actually understands these issues), note that the whole "if we don't make the rules, China will" argument makes no sense in the real world.

And here we see yet another reason why the negotiators have made sure to keep the TPP a secret. This way, people who only vaguely think they know what "trade agreements" are about can project whatever they want on to them. And thus, magically, a "trade agreement" concerning countries in the Pacific Rim that the public can't see magically saves the world from an ISIS takeover and Chinese-made rules that aren't likely to actually show up.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 8:04am

    I'm astonished you managed to make an entire article about that garbage. I mean, the only thing I could build logically in my mind was: "What in the hell am I reading?"

    A nickel for that ISIS connection. Picture T.P.P. with an ominous logo (SHIELD like) and Samuel Goddamn L Jackson in front of it staring at you whispering in menacing tonne: "If TPP dies, terrorists win! And China."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 8:55am

    If we don't give up our liberty, the hyperboles will win!

    I don't actually know what hyperboles are, but I heard that if we don't give up all of our essential liberties and submit to NSA recording, drone strikes, and full body scanning, the hyperboles will take over the world and force us into gay marriages with terrorist, socialist, fascist, polygamous dogs! All the American bald eagles will die off! Don McClean's jukebox will stop working again! Patriotic Americans will stop purchasing firearms!

    Oh the humanity! Won't someone think of the gun-wielding, church-going, female mudflap silhouette admiring, pickup-truck driving (white, middle class, male) children?!?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 10:36am

      Re: If we don't give up our liberty, the hyperboles will win!

      My latest favorite? "If we allow homosexuals and other gender confused individuals on the 'You can get married' bus, it'll cause ten thousand more abortions a day!"

      Ah ha, hahaha, haha, ha! Ten thousand fewer ignorant, credulous, apathetic morons like that a day would be a great start.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 8:55am

    globalization

    A term for businesses getting together to turn the entire world into a slave for big business.

    We are not globalized in any meaningful sense of the word.

    You cannot travel freely anywhere, you cannot exchange currencies without risk, salaries and prices are not even close to matching up at all, and rules and laws of other lands make no sense and are written to the whims of dickheadtators.

    If you stay something stupid that is legal in your land and then dumb enough to travel to that land, then you might deserve the anal reaming you get, however... just wait until they can just come to you for redress of grievances.

    Are you sure you want globalization? The power for someone from another country to find fault with you and have legal recourse to fuck your world out?

    Humans are stupid... proof is history!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 9:10am

    So let me get things straight. A "civilizational collapse" in an area of the world that never was civilized, leading to the resumption of business as usual--except for a few short decades in the 20th century when the winners of the world wars arbitrarily rearranged a bunch of borders because they could--puts us all at risk of being overrun by a tiny barbarian "army" whose only military conquests have come because the people opposing them are literally cowards afraid to stand against an enemy force even when they have a 30:1 advantage? And that has... what, again, to do with China?

    It's stupid crap like this that makes me want to support the development of electric vehicles and the Hyperloop project. The sooner we can make oil irrelevant to the modern economy, the sooner we can do what we should have done a hundred years ago and quarantine that entire part of the world until they've finished working out their own problems and demonstrated that they're ready to finally join their grown up brothers and sisters in the civilized world.

    Ugh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 9:58am

      Re:

      Tom Friedman completely missed the point of the rhetorical question, "What does that have to do with the price of rice in China?" and tried to answer it literally. That's all.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ambrellite, 30 Apr 2015 @ 9:10am

    I'm amused at the schizophrenic suggestion that we must adopt a measured, long-term perspective...and DO THE TPP THING NOW OR CHAOS WINS!

    The world has always been disordered, and adopting a huge, unknown law written by shadowy industry lobbyists probably isn't going to help.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 9:14am

    Goes to show

    It just goes to show, that idiots will pay another idiot a gazillion $$ to be an idiot in public. Friedman is proof of that!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 9:40am

    I hope his books are in the fiction aisle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    radarmonkey (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 10:01am

    Reading this, the same image kept flashing in my head: Simon (Bill Paxton) pleading with Helen (Jaime Lee Curtis) in 'True Lies' ...
    "If not for me, Helen, do it for your country!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 10:26am

    Methinks Friedman might actually need to be shot by ISIS; then maybe he might, for once, actually be right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 11:38am

    At this point I want to read TPP. I know what a lot of the issues are around the terrorism problem. I doubt a trade treaty is a security treaty. I also have reservations about what they might hide in the corporate sovereignty agreements. Sovereignty can be about war and peace. We deserve a chance to know what might become legal when new sovereignties are assigned.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 2:59pm

      Re:

      The TPP is only half of it.

      I'd also love to see the classified "interpretation" of the TPP (a la the PATRIOT Act) that is no doubt making the rounds to a very limited few.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 12:17pm

    Friedman seems to be arguing that TPP is a complete necessity for world order. If you do not know the content of TPP and supports it from fear of a potential loss of world control, there is a lack of rationality.

    I would go so far as to say that his article is mostly left in religious territory.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Unanimous Cow Herd, 30 Apr 2015 @ 1:07pm

    This guy should write for SNL

    Reminds me of "Random Thoughts with Jack Handey"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 1:09pm

    Such strange lands...

    "I have been to Germany, and Britain and the situation is dire over there. Thousands upon thousands of people running free of corporate control! It is chaos, and anarchy and this blasphemy must be stopped! We must bring order and control. We must bring TPP to the savages"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jjmsan (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 1:28pm

    Free Trade

    Friedman fans will recall his famous comment:

    "I was speaking out in Minnesota — my hometown, in fact — and a guy stood up in the audience, said, 'Mr. Friedman, is there any free trade agreement you’d oppose?' I said, 'No, absolutely not.' I said, 'You know what, sir? I wrote a column supporting the CAFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I didn’t even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade.'"
    http://www.cepr.net/blogs/beat-the-press/shock-of-the-century-thomas-friedman-supports-the-t rans-pacific-partnership

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Pragmatic, 1 May 2015 @ 6:41am

      Re: Free Trade

      Hello, ISIS management committee? Maxfidelis al Veepien here, calling to support the Caliphate. I just wanted to let you know there's a way to get the Western infidels off your backs; rebrand yourselves as a free trade promotion organization seeking to deregulate the movement of people and the ownership of land, metallic essentials and combustible materials.

      Yes, that's right, human rights don't get a look in here, they tend to disregard them when the free trade card is played. No they won't do anything to stop you selling slaves, their labor helps to keep costs down, which helps consumers, apparently.

      There's a columnist called Tom Friedman who can explain it to you if you like. Many of the most powerful and influential Westerners are really into the free trade idea, you see, and will accept anything with a Free Trade label on no matter what's in it. Everything you need to know about this is in his latest New York Times op-ed. That's right. So, what do you think?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 1:36pm

    Every generation shares two delusions

    That Friedman is disingenuous, crazy, or a mix of the two is a given, so I have little to say about his rant. However, this part:

    It’s a civilizational meltdown


    reminded me of the old truism that "every generation thinks that it invented sex and that it is the last one before the collapse of civilization".

    I think Friedman never pulled himself out of that delusional thinking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 2:31pm

    The world overtaken by corrupt corporations and totalitarian fearmongers isn't a desirable outcome that's good for the world either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    all your TPP is belong to NSA, 30 Apr 2015 @ 3:05pm

    all i have to say is ......

    MUHAHAHAA MUHAHAHAA MUHAHAHAA MUHAHAHAA
    there gonna get you or is it ....oh wait

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2015 @ 4:31pm

    What has been going on with the Thomas Friedman OpEd Generator is earth-flattening, and it has been on my mind ever since it began. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the citizens themselves. The current administration seems too caught up in spinning the facts to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the garbage writing style for the weak metaphors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Draph91 (profile), 1 May 2015 @ 4:20am

    ok what does the TPP have to do with terrorism?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TeaPartyImmigratonCoalition, 1 May 2015 @ 7:01am

    The lies abound about tPP

    Another example of how the non American Wall Street bankers and internationalists will stop at nothing to deceive us. The world will NOT be be taken over by ISIS.
    The author pillaries Tom Friedman, a wall street sycophant whose intent is to force you low life Real Americans into submission. That is the real purpose. These elites don't respect you, they don't like you and they have developed plans to slowly, inch by inch, enslave you.
    Like the classic frog tale and boiling water, we are slowly being cooked. When we find out, it will already have been too late.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TeaPartyImmigratonCoalition, 1 May 2015 @ 7:01am

    The lies abound about tPP

    Another example of how the non American Wall Street bankers and internationalists will stop at nothing to deceive us. The world will NOT be be taken over by ISIS.
    The author pillaries Tom Friedman, a wall street sycophant whose intent is to force you low life Real Americans into submission. That is the real purpose. These elites don't respect you, they don't like you and they have developed plans to slowly, inch by inch, enslave you.
    Like the classic frog tale and boiling water, we are slowly being cooked. When we find out, it will already have been too late.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 2 May 2015 @ 7:38am

    Friedman's OpEd was just the opening salvo.

    NY Times follows up with this:
    WASHINGTON — When President Obama defends the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a far-reaching agreement to tear down trade barriers between the United States and 11 other nations, he often argues it would cure the ills inflicted on American workers by trade pacts of the past, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    How many dissenting voices do they need to hear before they begin to question their assumptions? Or (rhetorical), is the NYT just handling the marketing for the administration?

    I thought it put Friedman's dumbth nicely into perspective.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.